Houston Rockets: Getting Yao Ming, Tracy McGrady Past the First Round

brandon jeffersonContributor IMay 14, 2008

Once again the Houston Rockets have been bounced out of the playoffs in the first round.

To make things even more repetitive, they suffered their first-round exit due to the Utah Jazz, this time the series concluding in six games instead of seven.

This leaves McGrady 0-7 all-time in the playoffs, and Yao Ming at 0-4.

I don't see the Rockets advancing unless a few changes are made, or TNT can keep trying to think of new creative ideas for Houston's "Gone Fishin'" segment.

The first area that needs to be addressed is point guard. Even though Rafer Alston was the catalyst behind the Rocket's 22-game winning streak, don't forget it was just last year that the Rockets acquired three fresh faces to try and pry the position out of his hands—Aaron Brooks (draft), Steve Francis and Mike James (free agency).

However, Alston elevated his level of play and due to injuries and trades only Aaron Brooks remains of the original three. The Rockets did acquire one of the best reserve guards in Bobby Jackson, but after watching Deron Williams make him look like a little kid in Round 1, I think he is better suited coming off the bench. 

But I have spotted someone who would fit perfectly into the Rockets offense and has made it clear that he wants to be a starter in the NBA—Jose Calderon of the Toronto Raptors, who posted his feelings about his role on his personal Web site.

Calderon has been the back-up to the often injured TJ Ford, and has made it seen through the time he is on the court that he has the ability of a floor general.

Calderon averaged 11.8 points and 7.0 assists in his five playoff games—compare that to Alston's 14.3 points, 1.5 rebounds and 4.5 assists in his three-and-a-half appearances.

The Rockets need another play-maker to take offensive pressure off of McGrady's already painful back, and Calderon's stats tell the tale. He can put the ball in people's hand so they can score.

Don't get me wrong, I love Rafer's game and if he didn't go down in the second half of Game 6 who knows how things would have turned out. But he is also up there in age (he'll be 32 on July 24th), and he has caught the injury plague that seems to come with being a Rocket (hamstring kept him out of Games 1 and 2 and the second half of Game 6).

Calderon will be a restricted free agent this summer, meaning that the Raptors can match any offer made to him. Unless he is going to be their starting point guard, I doubt Calderon will go back willingly, which leaves the option of a sign and trade.

With Luther Head falling out of the rotation lately, his name could possibly pop into the discussions in that case. And Alston only has two years left on his contract, making him a free agent in the summer of 2010.

With Alston coming off probably his best season in the NBA, his trade value has more than likely reached its peak this summer.

There are also other names to look out for in this year's free agent class, too:

Restricted: Luol Deng, Ben Gordon, Monta Ellis, Dorrell Wright, and Louis Williams

Unrestricted: Gilbert Arenas, Michael Finley, Ron Artest, Beno Udrih, Bostjan Nachbar, Corey Maggette, and James Posey.

The one who makes the most sense would be Corey Maggette, who isn't looking to be a star of the team but he knows how to cut, slash, and finish, which the Rockets could also use very much.

In the draft, the Rockets should focus on the front court.

With Yao Ming returning from a foot injury that sidelined him late in the season and the ageless wonder Dikembe Mutumbo finally considering retirement, the Rockets need another presence down low to be able to give Yao a rest when he needs one.

The ideal fit for the 25th pick would be Georgetown center Roy Hibbert.

Already equipped with most of the defensive tools necessary to control the paint, a few years of tutelage underneath Yao and maybe even Mutumbo and Hibbert could finally live up to the potential people have deemed to be inside of him.

I never was a big Hibbert fan. But with all that's happened this year some more depth up front is a necessity. And Hibbert is not offensively-challenged like some prospects of the past, as shown by his game-winning three-point bucket to defeat a red-hot UConn team this past season.

If the Rockets can have a healthy core (HA! Sorry, even I had to laugh at that idea), strengthen their front court, and upgrade their back court, then I don't see any reason for them to not get past the first round of the 2009 playoffs.

Unless, of course, they end up being matched against the Jazz for a third straight year.

The Rockets have a core in place with Yao and McGrady. Those two, or one of them as it's been as of late, can carry them into the playoffs.

But they need an improved supporting cast in order to become true undeniable contenders for the Larry O'Brien Trophy for the upcoming years.